Remarks at a United States Conference of Mayors Breakfast
Thank you for that wonderful welcome. When Secretary Pena started talking about Mayor Helmke being on "Jeopardy," I thought he was going to say—and I knew we were getting into this law school business—I thought he was going to say, "Which two politicians in this room went to the greatest lengths early in their career to cover up the fact that they went to Ivy League schools?" [Laughter] Once you get gray headed, you can fess up to that.
I'm delighted to be here with you, Paul, and I'm very proud of your success and the partnership we've enjoyed. Mayor Webb, good job in the Super Bowl. [Laughter] I want to say to all of you—my mayor, Jim Dailey, is here. I want to thank Secretary Cuomo and Secretary Pena, Secretary Riley, Secretary Babbitt, Secretary Slater, OMB Director Frank Raines, OPM Director Janice Lachance, General McCaffrey, Gene Sperling, my National Economic Adviser. And I want to thank our whole team. There are others who are here. I also want to say a special word of thanks to Mickey Ibarra and Lynn Cutler, who have been working with you on this conference. I think they've done a superb job, and I hope you are pleased with it.
And we have a lot of other members of the administration here from other departments in the White House. We all like it when the mayors come to town; we get to talk about real people, real issues, and building a real future for America, because that's what you embody.
Earlier this week in the State of the Union Address I asked the American people to continue working with me to strengthen our Nation for the 21st century—just 700 days, more or less, left in this century and in this millennium.
We can be very grateful for the strength that our country enjoys today. We got some new evidence, actually, this morning of that strength with the new economic report. Our economy continues to grow steadily and strongly. In the fourth quarter of last year, our economy expanded at a vigorous 4.3 percent rate with continued low inflation. Last year, economic growth for the entire year was fueled by strong exports and strong business investment. It was 3.8 percent on an annual basis. That's the highest growth rate for the United States in a decade, after years of economic expansion.
This economic strategy that we have embraced of fiscal discipline, expanded trade, and investment in our people and our future is working. What I want to talk to you about today is that we have to continue that until every American is a part of this success story.
The next steps we have to make—in education, in economic development, in crime, in partnerships with our cities, in involving all of our citizens in the work of our cities and nations—these next steps will be critical. Whether we can empower all of our urban areas and our urban citizens to make the most of their own lives will be critical to determining whether we can, in fact, take all this success that our country has had and reach every neighborhood, every block, every family, every child.
Today, thanks to your leadership, there is truly an urban renaissance taking place all across America, from New York, where crime has dropped to record lows, to Detroit, where the unemployment rate has been cut in half, to Long Beach, where the downtown is once again bustling with shoppers and students in school uniforms are learning more in safer environments.
The urban revitalization is one of the most extraordinary successes of the past 5 years. It is a great achievement of America's mayors and the people whom they lead. Our cities are back because so many of you rolled up your sleeves and went to work. I thank you for your leadership and for the extraordinary opportunity that we have had to work together. I can tell you, for me, it's been a lot of fun, and we've done a lot of good. And we're going to do even more in the next 3 years. I know we can.
The other night in the State of the Union Address, I tried to capture for the American people the different direction in Government that our administration has pursued for the last 5 years. I said that one of the reasons I came to Washington as the Governor of a small State—sort of like being the mayor of a big city—was to break out of this old gridlock between those who said Government is the problem and those who said Government is the solution. It was obvious that, if for no reason than the deficit, Government could not be the solution; plus the nature of the problems we have and the nature of the changing economy and society that we're living in, and certainly the one toward which we are moving, made it impossible to think about the solutions to today's problems in sort of 1930's through 1960's terms.
So what we said is there has got to be a third way here. These two extremes won't work. We think Government ought to be a catalyst for new ideas to experiment. We think Government ought to be a partner with the private sector and community groups. We think the Government ought to focus on creating the conditions and giving people the tools so that people can solve their own lives and chart their own futures and build this country from the ground up. That is what you represent for me. You do that all day, every day, sometimes without even thinking about it. You do it because it is the only way to proceed, and you do it without regard to party. A long time ago, Mayor La Guardia said, "There's no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage. It either gets picked up or it doesn't." [Laughter]
Now, I tried to reflect that third way approach in how we have related. A lot of you were terrifically understanding when I came into office and I said, "You know, you're my friends, and I care about you, but the first thing I've got to do is get this deficit down, otherwise the economy will never come back, and you won't have any jobs anyway." And we found a way to find some more investments, to make some innovative partnerships, while we were continuing to follow the discipline necessary that has brought us to the point where we are now; where the budget deficit was estimated to be $357 billion for this year when I took office, now the estimate is $10 billion. That's a pretty big difference.
We know, and I think you can see by the extraordinary presence of Cabinet members here today, we know that every single part of this Federal Government has a responsibility to work with you and to be a good partner. Secretary Cuomo's reinvented HUD exemplifies the kind of approach we're trying to take to working with the cities all across the Federal Government. We want to be your partner, and we want to be a good partner and help you be a good partner with the private sector, with community groups, with individual citizens.
Now, on Monday, as a part of my balanced budget, I'll be proposing one of the broadest, strongest, and most innovative urban agendas in a generation that will focus on three keys to closing the opportunity gaps in America and building one America for the 21st century: education, economic development, and crime.
First, as I said the other night, all Americans know, I think, in the marrow of their bones that we have the finest system of higher education in the world. Therefore, when I was able to announce to the American people the other night all the steps we had taken essentially to open the doors of college to all Americans, I could hear the cheering in living rooms all across this country. You didn't have to say— people knew we were giving them a good thing.
We have to keep working until people have that same level of confidence that their elementary and secondary schools will give their children the best education in America. And we can do it. If we can build an international space station in the sky, if we can put all the telephone calls on Mother's Day on a single piece of fiber the width of a human hair—which will happen in just a couple of years—if our scientists can unlock the secrets—the genetic secrets of Parkinson's disease in 9 days, all those things I talked about the other night, this is not rocket science. This is not rocket science. We can do this. We have never had, in the last 20 years, when we have known we needed to do it, the kind of systematic, disciplined approach to giving our children the education they need that we must bring to bear on this problem now. But we can do it.
One thing I know, there are some cities where the mayors have direct jurisdiction over the schools and other cities where the mayors seem to have no legal say over the schools, but in every city the mayor should be involved in the schools. I am thrilled that you're going to have a conference on public schools. I thank you for your invitation, and I expect to be there. I want us to continue to work together on this important issue.
I am—as you know, if you heard the speech the other night, I'm very excited about what's going on in Chicago with the schools. I have been there twice. I have spent a lot of time both in the schools and sitting around tables talking to the people who are part of the restructuring of the way they're operated, not only from the district down but from the school level up, with parental involvement.
I think it is a good thing to do end social promotion, but I think you have to couple that with second chances. And so when they ended social promotion, they also had mandatory summer school to give every child a second chance. You can stand up and say something like, I'm ending social promotion, and it sounds great and everybody will clap and your popularity will go up, but in the end, the only thing that really matters is, are the children learning or not? And the reason we should stop the practice is that it covers up the sins of the system which is not producing an educated citizenry among our children and not preparing them for the future.
So it's a good thing to do to end it, but it's not enough, because you have to put something in its place. And the thing that's exciting to me about Chicago is they have—if these children don't perform at grade level, then they have a mandatory summer school program and everybody goes. By the way, it cuts down on juvenile disruption problems as well.
But it's an exciting thing. I went to a school there with a principal and a parent, and the parent had a child in the school as a student and a child in the school as a teacher. And it was an inner-city school, and all of these parent groups showed up. None of them felt aggrieved because this school had ended social promotion. They felt empowered because it had, because it was done at the grassroots level. And they thought it was a fair system because they were involved in it and because their kids had a positive alternative. So it wasn't just that they were going to be held back. We have to do things like that all across the country.
I am proposing new education opportunity zones to help poor school districts close down falling schools, promote public school choice, remove bad teachers, follow the model of the Chicago system to try to help to stop social promotion, but start learning—an opportunity for our kids.
I also proposed the first-ever Federal help to help our local schools hire 100,000 more school teachers, so that we can have smaller classes in the early grades. We can reduce class sizes in the first, second, and third grade to an average of 18 nationwide if my proposal is adopted. And because that will create enormous problems—we have both more teachers and more students; we have to have more classrooms—I have proposed a school construction tax cut to help communities modernize or build 5,000 schools. And that will help a lot of you in this room.
The second thing we have to do is keep working to extend economic opportunity to every corner of every community. Over the past 5 years, with the leadership of the Vice President, we've created 125 empowerment zones and enterprise communities, offered tax cuts to clean up and redevelop brownfields, offered a network of community development banks to make loans to people in places where they're not normally made, and we have dramatically strengthened the Community Reinvestment Act. I don't know if anybody has talked about that here yet, but that act has been on the book since 1977. Over 80 percent of all the lending done in the 20plus year history of the Community Reinvestment Act has been done in the last 5 years, since we've been here. And it's made a big difference, in communities all across this country, to grow the economy and bring opportunity. And I'm very proud of that.
Our balanced budget will propose, as I'm sure Secretary Cuomo has already said, new housing vouchers to help people stay off welfare and move closer to jobs, an expanded low income housing tax credit, new opportunities for homeownership, tougher efforts to fight housing discrimination.
We have created 14 million new jobs here in the last 5 years. Just 13 percent of them, though, have been in the central cities. We have to get the message out to our businesses. And that's why I went to Wall Street the other day with Jesse Jackson and people from Wall Street to say, the most important emerging market for a strong American economy, the most important way to continue to grow the economy and keep inflation low, is to move into the markets that are right here within the borders of the United States, into these neighborhoods that have not been developed.
That's why I am announcing today that my balanced budget will create a new $400 million community empowerment fund to be run by HUD that will help local governments attract more businesses and jobs to poor and underserved neighborhoods. The fund will encourage the standardization of economic development lending, a first step in creating a secondary market for such loans. It will provide capital to businesses who recognize the potential and the possibilities of the inner cities. This is the right way to help our cities. It is not a handout. It will bring new credit, new jobs, and new hope to the people. I thank Secretary Cuomo for developing it, and it's going to bring a lot of economic opportunity to many of you.
Let me also say, though, one of the things I appreciate about the mayors is that you not only want me to help you do the things you have to do, you understand that some of the things we do create the framework within which you proceed. So mayors have been very good about supporting my efforts to balance the budget. Mayors have been very good, across party lines, in supporting my efforts to expand trade. And I was very excited with the focus you put on Africa trade. You know, we've got an Africa trade initiative coming up. And I just wanted to say to you, one of the things that we have to understand about this new world is that the old dividing line in our mind between a domestic issue and a foreign policy issue has come crashing down. And increasingly, the dividing lines in our mind between what is a national security issue and an economic issue is coming crashing down.
Yesterday I had my annual meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and our other commanders in chief of our regions around the world of various military functions like space and transportation and other things. And what we do every year is we sit around, and basically they go around the table and make a report to me about their area of responsibility, and then I make a comment, and we talk a little about it. And yesterday at the meeting, a big topic of conversation was the financial crisis in Asia. Now, you say, "Well, what are the military people worried about that for?" Well, it affects the ability of those Asian countries to modernize their militaries. It affects their capacity to cooperate with us. It affects the internal stability of their government. So, all of a sudden, if you get to wear four stars around on your shoulder and go to the Pacific, you got to become an expert in international finance. And you have to care about whether the Congress will vote to have America do its part in contributing to the International Monetary Fund and rebuilding the economy.
So, if you're a mayor in Indiana or Wyoming or Wisconsin, why should you care about it? Because you know that the overall health of the American economy will determine the parameters within which you must proceed. Now, you may do a better or worse job on any given day, like all of the rest of us, but you know that.
So I would say to you again, thank you for your concern for and support for trade. But I think the mayors, without regard to party and without regard to the particular conditions in each city, understand that over the long run we are much better off when we continue to expand trade and when we build good, constructive economic partnerships with free countries who share our values around the world.
So I ask for your support for the international trade agenda I announced, for more open doors to Africa and Latin America, for an extension of the fast-track authority, and most immediately, for the United States doing its part with the International Monetary Fund to stabilize the situation in Asia. Those are very important markets for us, and I ask you for your help in securing that in Congress.
The third thing that we have to do, if we really want to bring all the cities back and all the neighborhoods back, is make the streets safe. People are not going to invest money, they're not going to open businesses, they're not going to stake their future on the schools of a place where they don't feel safe. The greatest thing that's happened in some ways to all of our cities is the capacity that you have developed to dramatically lower crime rates.
Now, we have worked with you to empower that strategy, to make it work more. The crime bill we passed in '94, with the strong support of many of the mayors here, was written, in effect, by local law enforcement officials, local elected officials like mayors, and local community group leaders who were concerned about making our streets safe. You know, I wasn't Einstein up here coming up with a bunch of ideas; I just took what I knew would work based on the experience that was sweeping the country. And it has been working. More police, tougher punishment, better prevention: those things work, working at a neighborhood level where everybody works together to try to keep crime from happening in the first place. Now, crime is down now for 5 years in a row in this country.
So even though we have to balance the budget, we have to do more to invest in the fight, for two reasons: One, we have to finish what we started in '94 and finish the work of putting all 100,000 police on the street. Second, we have to recognize that we still have some issues out there that we have to face. Particularly, as all of you know, the juvenile crime rate has not dropped as much as the overall crime rate has. We have the biggest group of young people in our schools in history. Finally, we've got a group of kids in our schools more numerous than the baby boom generation. And by the time they all start turning 12, 13, 14 years old, we'd better have found a solution to the juvenile crime problem, or we will not be able to continue to say, we're lowering the crime rate. It will become a new, horrible problem for the cities.
Now, we have seen from what many of you have done that there are ways to dramatically lower the juvenile crime rate. So all we're trying to do here is basically to do a step two in the fight against crime that reflects a national effort to give you the tools to do with juvenile crime what you have already done with the overall crime rate.
I have proposed a Federal effort to help to hire as many as 1,000 neighborhood prosecutors across our country to work closely with police and residents to prevent crime as well as prosecute criminals. They'll try to prevent crime with a lot of tools like injunctions to clear playgrounds of drug dealers and other legal strategies to rid neighborhoods of troubled spots.
You know, I've seen what has happened when we have more prosecutors and more probation officers and they're working in a systematic way. I've seen—I see Mayor Menino back there— the experience of Boston has become legendary, but it is not unique now because so many others are doing this. We have to do this everywhere.
I remember one day I spent with Mayor Menino in Boston, my jaw dropped when the people that were sitting at our roundtable said that the young people on probation—they had a 70 percent compliance rate with probation orders. And I figured that's probably about double what the national average is for any city of any size in America, because they were going in the homes, working the streets, bringing the neighborhoods back into the real life of the community. So that's what this juvenile initiative to have more community prosecutors and more probation officers is all about.
We also are going to strengthen our efforts against illegal gun-trafficking, helping local police departments and the ATF to trace all guns discovered at crime scenes. I want to hire over 160 new ATF agents to investigate and arrest gun traffickers who sell guns illegally to gangs and to juveniles. That's our responsibility. We need to do more to help you with that.
Finally, on the domestic front here, in addition to the prosecutors and the probation officers and the gun efforts, I think it's important that the mayors sent a loud and clear, nonpartisan message to the Congress and to the country that most juvenile crime is not committed by people who don't have anybody in their family who cares about them. Most juvenile crime is committed by young people who get in trouble when the school is out and mama or daddy aren't home from work; between 3 and 8 at night is when most juvenile crime is committed. So we've got to do more to have after-school programs either in the schools or in community centers. That would do more than anything else.
Now, we have some money coming through the Justice Department for this; we have some money coming through the Education Department for this, for community-based learning centers. I think Secretary Riley's initiative is called 21st Century Community Learning Centers or something like that. We need your help. We really need your help to tell the Congress that this is not a political issue; this is not a partisan issue; and this is not shoveling some old-fashioned grant to the cities that some of the Members of Congress may not want. This is children's lives. And this is whether you can succeed or not in really building the kind of cities you want for the 21st century.
You cannot make it unless we can do something about the problem of juvenile crime. And we're not going to do it, with all those kids, when all their juices are flowing and they're out there vulnerable to get in all kinds of trouble, unless you give them something positive to do when the schoolhouse door is open for the last time in the day until they can go home and be under proper supervision at night. We have got to do this. And we need your help to do it. And we can do it.
Let me also say that there is something else we have to do more of—and General McCaffrey is here; I want to mention this. We want to do a better job of keeping drugs from coming into this country in the first place. Not long ago I went to Miami with General McCaffrey, and we saw the work that the Coast Guard is doing there to try to interdict drugs. The problem is that the better job we do in stopping drugs from coming in in the water and through the air, the more pressure it puts on land through Mexico.
I mean, these people didn't get rich being stupid. They are a very powerful, well-organized, violent, and phenomenally wealthy enemy of the children and the future of the United States. What we want to try to do is to dramatically increase our capacity to deal with border imports. And we proposed to hire another 1,000 border patrol agents, to continue our antidrug media campaign, which is important, to crack down on heroin and methamphetamine trade, to boost drug abuse treatment and prevention— also very important. We're also going—and Secretary Slater is here—we're also going to try to bring to bear the latest technologies and really spend some money. And we've reauthorized this new transportation bill. And I want all of you to support us, whether you live near the border or not, because it affects you. We need to spend some serious money on the border to have the best available technology to do everything we can to find drugs.
Now, it is not possible yet with technology, but if I could paint a picture of the future and I could have any technological breakthrough—if a genie came down the aisle here and said, "In the next 3 months, you could have any technological breakthrough you want for your country. What would you do?" I think that if I could pick one for the next 3 months, I would say I would like to have a border patrol system for picking drugs that is as effective as airport metal detectors are from getting weapons away from people. I mean that should be our model. That's what we should be imagining.
Why? Because it not only is effective, we don't hold up everybody else very long. You never hear anybody griping about going through an airport metal detector anymore. And every now and then you've got a money clip in your pocket or something, you've got to go back around and go through again, but it's not any kind of a big deal. That should be what we are working for. We should be working and working and working; we shouldn't stop until we basically have the capacity to check every vehicle that crosses our border in a way that doesn't shut commerce down and unduly burden totally innocent people who are just going about their lives.
And I want you to help us when this transportation bill comes up, and I want you to help us when the drug budget comes up to get that kind of structure, because you have got to have more help in trying to cut off the drugs at the source in the first place. And we're going to do our best to give it to you.
The last point I want to make is I believe that our cities can embody the image that I have for America in the 21st century because they are the most diverse places in America. And as we become more diverse, in a funny way we've got to become more united. As we become more diverse, we have to learn to celebrate what's different about ourselves, but we have to hold even tighter to the things that bind us together at the family and the neighborhood and the community level.
We're going to reauthorize the national service program, AmeriCorps, this year. I hope all of you will support it because you have really used it a lot. I know General Powell is going to speak to you before you end your conference, and I hope all of you will support what he's doing. That Presidents' Summit on Service in Philadelphia last April was a remarkable thing. The idea that we ought to mobilize hundreds of thousands of volunteers, maybe millions of them, to give every child a safe street to grow up on, a good school to attend, a good health care system so that the child is healthy, a mentor, and the chance to serve—those are five laudable goals.
And if you think about it, in terms of what I just said, about the economy and education and crime, if we have a country in which in every city, across the lines of race, people have an equal chance to work together, to learn together, to serve together, we're going to get along together just fine. You all show that every day. And most of you have a good time doing it. I think it's fun to be a mayor these days, isn't it? [Laughter] I think you're having a good time doing it.
When I think of one America, I think of all the places I've been in all of your communities, where people are living together, learning together, working together, serving together, closing those opportunity gaps, building one country. The best days of this country are ahead of us. All we have to do is to bear down and do more of what you have been doing these last few years.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
NOTE: The President spoke at 9:57 a.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his remarks he referred to Mayor Paul Helmke of Fort Wayne, IN; Mayor Wellington E. Webb of Denver, CO; Mayor Jim Dailey of Little Rock, AR; Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston, MA; and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Colin Powell, USA, (Ret.), chairman, America's Promise—The Alliance For Youth.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at a United States Conference of Mayors Breakfast Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/224558